Snorkeling has a wild side, and in the Caribbean, there’s nothing wilder than the island of Dominica. When you swim out from smooth-stoned Champagne Beach, passing through iridescent schools of diminutive fish, you soon reach the bizarre sight of bubbles streaming up from the seafloor. Duck under and reach into the rock fissures, and your hand enters the earth’s molten womb, which very recently gave birth to Dominica and isn’t quite sure it’s done with its offspring yet – as evidenced by the island’s nine active volcanoes. It’s easy to become intoxicated by Champagne’s fizz – you’ll finally empathize with the fishbowl guppy’s eternal gape at a bubbling plastic treasure chest – but this extensive snorkel site offers a lot more than hot air.
Out beyond the moonscape rocks and the startling-yellow sponges that surround Champagne’s thermal vents, the marine life grows to almost absurd proportions and in dizzying diversity. You’ll find that Dominica underwater is as much a Jurassic Park experience as Dominica topside. Sea urchins – still rare throughout much of the Caribbean after a devastating die-off – live plentifully here, which keeps the reef much healthier than many other sites. Local snorkel guides will point out life-list all-stars like frogfish and enough seahorses to run the Derby. Pay attention, and you’ll be rewarded with both the largest and the smallest specimens of marine life you’ve ever seen, including tiny, jewellike juvenile fish of every kind. Rock and reef crevices sprout armies of thick-tentacled sea anemones, and gaudy red-and-white shrimp stand guard at innumerable fish-cleaning stations.
Champagne is a large area with snorkeling out to at least 100 yards – though you need to go only as far as you’re comfortable to see amazing sights – and there’s a wreck with cannons in 25 feet of water. It’s a spot worth more than one day’s swim, and you could spend a week here finding still more wonders. Dominica, though, does have another large area, south of Champagne, that snorkelers will find edgy and fascinating. The crater of an ancient volcano forms Scotts Head Bay, and inside the bay – following the coastline of prominent Scotts Head – you’ll find an underwater landscape of life-dripping walls teeming with reef fish and of shoals spiked with yellow tube sponges. As with exploring other areas of this largely untouched island, you’ll feel you’ve stumbled across a land that time forgot.